Shaolin Kempo Kata Bunkai

Analysis of Bunkai in Shaolin Kempo Kata 

This article is not really finished, but I thought I’d rescue it from my palm pilot to get some feedback on. I plan to fill in some specific answers to bunkai problems later, but for now, here’s the background idea. 


The Shaolin Kempo Kata, as taught via the Villari system and its offshoots, is a slightly modified form of the original karazenpo forms. These forms were brought to the East coast by S. George Pesare, who taught them to Nick Cerio, who taught them to Fred Villari. Nick Cerio later abandoned them when formulating Nick Cerio’s Kenpo, synthesizing them into his own forms. The Villari system remained essentially true to the versions taught by S. George Pesare, with minor modfications. These forms can be seen in the systems practiced by the groups founded by those who left theVillari organization, such as United Studios of Self Defense, United Shaolin Kempo, Masters Self Defense Centers, Masters of Karate, and Shaolin Self Defense Centers. 


It’s a Guard

While I was learning these forms, I heard what I now consider to be the biggest red flag disguising the answer “I don’t know”. These forms were created based on the early kajukenbo sets. Kajukenbo, in turn had its beginnings in the kempo of Chow and Mitose. These were not people looking for an idealized performance art, these were men who fought. Any superfluous motion, any posing would be detrimental and ineffective. It would have no place. Every time I found a position in a form that wasn’t immediately identifiable as a block or punch I would ask my instructor what the move was for, and almost without fail the answer would be “it’s a guard.” I don’t doubt that these instructors were sincere. In fact, I believe they were passing along the exact answer they were given when they asked the same question years earlier.


History and the Conceit of pure reason 

It sometimes concerns me that I might be arrogant to suppose that I could see what my instructors could not. I reassure myself when I consider my interest in the history of Shaolin Kempo. None of my instructors have shared this interest, at least not to the depth in which I have pursued my research. It was this research that led me to my understanding of the men who created these kata. Getting to know the men led to the specific understanding of the applications held within these kata. I purposely use the term held and not hidden, because that is the fundamental element in discovering the applications. The applications are in plain sight. 


Technique vs. Movement Based Forms

In arts that use forms, kata or sets, there are two major types of forms. One type, usually found in older arts, is the movement based form. The form teaches the fundamental movements, positions, footwork and power generation methods in a systematic manner. Forms of this sort tend to have various interpretations for any given move in the form, and the bunkai may look visually different from the portion of the form being interpreted. An example of a form of this type might be sanchin, siu lum tao, or naihanchi. 


Newer arts tend to use technique based forms. These forms are essentially the class notes of the founders. As techniques were developed, they were organized into forms. These forms contain the key concepts and principles within the techniques, and by practicing the form the student is hopefully gaining the benefit of application practice, but also absorbing the principles of the system at the same time. For these forms, the application should be immediately apparent, and the ‘shape’ of the application should closely match the form. 

Shaolin Kempo,Karazenpo, Ed Parker’s Kenpo and early Kajukenbo were all arts of this type. The art was taught in a ‘technique based’ system, emphasizing applications. 


Looking back to move forward. 

Going forward with this premise, I then began to dissect the forms into discrete techniques. Most were easily identified, with reasonably obvious applications, or were immediately recognizable as combinations or other rank material. The remaining techniques were divided into four main categories:blocks and strikes to unlikely targets, blocks without strikes, ‘cup and saucer’ moves, and ‘it’s a guard’. 

Once I had my target techniques identified, I began to look into the past for similar techniques. Delving into the past did not necesarily mean traveling back in time, but rather taking a look at each generational ancestor to observe techniques that match. Through comparing and contrasting elements of Fred Villari’s techniques, Professor Nick Cerio’s techniques, those seen on film shown by Grandmaster S. George Pesare, those of Master Bill Chun Jr., those of Victor Sonny Gascon, and through Professor Kimo Ferreira the techniques of Walter Godin, I began to find techniques that fit into the movements of the kata with little or no variation. I can only presume that these techniques are related to the original intent of the forms, but at this point, I’m just happy having an answer for each time I’m asked, “What’s this for?”